Art You Can't Miss at San Francisco International Airport
Did you know San Francisco International Airport is the country's only airport with a museum program accredited by the American Association of Museums?
Next time you’re at SFO, plan a little extra time to relax and enjoy the world class art exhibits; let your imagination take flight. You don’t have to be traveling to enjoy the art. There are plenty of exhibits pre-security to enjoy, making SFO a great rainy day outing. Although it’s fun to take the free AirTrain from terminal to terminal, you'll see the most if you just stroll.
SFO Artwork is Open to the Public and Free of Charge
Although not a museum in the traditional sense, SFO’s permanent Public Art Collection includes more than 100 paintings, sculptures, mosaics and site-specific works in a diversity of styles and media by artists of local, national and international acclaim. In addition to six light artworks featured in Illuminate SF by artists Ned Kahn, Eric Staller, Vito Acconci, James Carpenter, Keith Sonnier and Merge Conceptual Design, SFO exhibits works by top Bay Area artistic talents like Wayne Thiebaud, James Torlakson, Roy De Forest, Hassel Smith and Lee Mullican, all of whom can be found in the collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, as well as works by international art stars like Arnaldo Pomodoro and Seiji Kunishima. All works in the Civic Art Collection sited at SFO are provided by the San Francisco Arts Commission, through the City’s percent-for-art program.
Terminal 1: The Harvey Milk Terminal
Cast Stainless steel; terracotta
Location: Security check-in
Six suspended "tectonic plates" representing different continents make up this massive artwork at SFO's Harvey Milk Terminal. Passengers lining up for security will have a different vantage point of the artwork than those on the mezzanine level. The artwork is intended to represent technological innovation and organic connectivity, symbolizing a source of growth and connectivity in the digital age.
Boarding Area B
Location: Hold room 10
This 13-foot-by-33-foot mosaic tile mural captures unique individuals sharing a global table. Spirit/Body explores human interconnection and invites viewers to consider the diversity of people in air travel and their journeys to and fro each destination.
Architectural bronze 385 2" tubing
Location: Terminal 1, Boarding Area B
Melted and welded bronze tubing create Andy Vogt's visual illusion, which appears to float off the wall in Boarding Area B.
Airport Train Hotel Station
Sarah Cain's abstract design was translated into a colorful stained glass artwork to cover the walls of the Airport Train Hotel Station. It is made of prisms and cascading rainbows that will be illuminated when natural light shines through the glass. This installation will create an immersive experience for those arriving at the Hyatt via the Airtrain.
Long Term Parking Garage 2
Light fixtures; glass, painted steel panels
Location: East facade of Parking Garage 2 and elevator cab interiors
Coding is an installation that creates a luminous experience in SFO's parking structure elevator tower. The mirrored square and rectangle windows, suggesting dots and dashes, spell out "San Francisco" in morse code. The color changing elements are dynamic throughout the day and night, making for an impressive art installation.
This Infinite Gateway of Time and Circumstance, 2019
Paper, UV ink, resin, bamboo, Spectra, acrylic and stainless steel
Location: Level 3 restaurant
This immersive sculpture comprised of over 3,500 kite-like ellipses floats between two floors of the building in an interwoven canopy. It creates the impression of an everchanging landscape, as images of various graphics can be perceived by the viewer.
Ether is the first permanent artwork in the United States by Japanese artist Kohei Nawa. This 35-foot-tall sculpture explores the concept of gravity and references the movement of airplanes. It visualizes a droplet of liquid falling from sky to Earth, resulting in a potentially infinite column created within a space of zero gravity.
Six Must-See Light Art Works Featured in Illuminate SF
Hours and availability depend on airport and airline operations. Artwork located beyond security checkpoints can be seen by ticketed passengers in these boarding areas. View the SFO art collection online and download the multi-page PDF with art map to learn more about the artworks, and the artist who made them.
1. Wind Portal by Ned Kahn – 200,000 mirrored stainless steel disks responds to air currents, creating an ever-changing mosaic of light, sculpted by the wind. You’ll find it between the BART Station and AirTrain near the International Terminal escalator.
2. Four Sculptural Light Reflectors by James Carpenter – Inspired by the construction of the Wright brothers’ first airplane, the suspended sculpture's design diffuses direct sunlight from the skylights, which reflects light up onto the opaque surface of the roof. Pre-Security in the International Terminal, Main Hall, Level 3.
3. Light Beams for the Sky of a Transfer Corridor by Vito Acconci – Sculptural beams of light from recessed lighting in the ceiling above transverse the length of the corridor. Pre-Security in International Terminal, A-G, Level 2.
4. Sky by Merge Conceptual Design – Each mirrored sphere's exterior reflects and distorts its surroundings, as subtle shifts in light and color create an optical effect inside each sphere. Post-Security in Terminal 3, Boarding Area E, Level 2. (Restricted Access).
5. Spirogyrate by Eric Staller – An immersive, interactive installation composed of graphic spiral patterns and light respond to people’s movement through space. Post-Security in Terminal 3, Boarding Area E, Level 2. (Restricted Access).
6. Ceiling Flood by Keith Sonnier – Evenly spaced blue and red neon integrate with a line of neutral light, above which a strategically placed line of neon provides a subtle “yellow glow" down the length of the ceiling. Post-Security in International Terminal, Boarding Area G, Level 2. (Restricted Access).
Expanding the Definition of What a Museum Can Be
In addition to its public art collection, SFO hosts more than 20 galleries with art, science, historical and cultural themes, including a dedicated Aviation Museum and Library as well as rotating exhibits, so you can come today and again in six months to see different works.
Artists are drawn to the vast, diverse audience that the airport attracts; 50 million passengers pass through SFO annually.
Don’t Miss SFO’s Stunning “Glass Waterfall”
Completed in May 2015, the new SFO Traffic Control Tower ascends 221 feet skyward in a graceful flare. The control tower's west face features an LED-backlit glass waterfall that stretches 147 feet in the air, reflecting sunlight during the day and glowing with interior lighting at night, the colors of which can be changed to celebrate important events.
Located between Terminals 1 and 2, the tower can be seen from the freeway and upon driving into the airport. To see it close up, stand in the Pre-Security Public Corridor at the base of the tower. Look straight up through the skylight glass roof to enjoy the LED light waterfall. Designed to achieve LEED Gold status by airport master architecture firm HNTB, with design partner Fentress Architects, and Hensel Phelps on the design-build team.
Learn more at illuminatesf.com.